How to identify and avoid responding to distress scam emails

6 September 2013

The following characteristics are typical of what is known as a 'distress scam':

  • You receive an email from someone you may or may not know, such as a work colleague or contact in your address book, claiming they have been robbed whilst attending a work conference, particularly overseas.
  • The email specifies that they urgently need to borrow money, often in the thousands of dollars.
  • They will ask for this money by wire or international money transfer (as it is difficult for authorities to recover money that is sent this way).

The scammer may have hacked into someone's email account who has your contact details, which is why the email sometimes appears to be from someone you know. If you respond with your own email account or provide your contact details you may risk having your own email account hacked.

How to protect yourself

  • If you receive an unexpected request for money from someone who appears to be a colleague, friend or family member, contact them directly (not via email) to check that the request is genuine before sending money. Do not use any of the contact details from the email you received.
  • Do not open suspicious or unsolicited emails (spam). For further information, visit What should I do if I receive spam email?
  • Never send your online account details via email. Think carefully before you give away any personal or financial information.

Reporting the Distress Scam Email

  • If you think that you have been targeted by a distress scam email, please report the email to your local Police.
  • Report the scam to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) via the 'Report a scam page' on the SCAMwatch website.
  • Update our SPAM Knowledge systems by following instructions on What should I do if I receive spam email?